“You should lust after your bride.” That’s how Paul Byerly of The Generous Husband began a post last Friday on LUST: I Want You. Paul pointed out that the word translated as “lust” is the Greek word epithumeo. “Epithumeo is not a sexual word, nor does it indicate sin; it actually means nothing more than a strong desire.”
Really? Growing up, the theme of “Don’t lust” was pretty big in our church youth group. We all knew that the progression went something like this: Girl wears strapless dress to prom — > boy lusts — > they dance close — > boy lusts — > they make out afterward — > boy and girl lust — > BIG, BIG SIN!
I barely refrained from putting “hellfire and brimstone” at the end of that sequence. But the point was basically LUST = BAD.
Not so, mon ami! Unfortunately, like plenty of issues in the world of sexuality, we allowed sexual desire to get a bad rap because we saw how Satan and the world had tainted it. We reasoned that strong sexual desire must be bad since it leads to premarital sex, pornography, adultery, etc.
Well, here’s the great thing about the little Bible study I did after reading Paul’s terrific article. I pulled out my Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (a handy tool) and looked up the definition epithumeo and its uses in the New Testament. The Greek word epithumeo is translated as any of the following, depending on context: lust, desire, covet, long. Two of those have generally negative connotations (lust/covet) and two are positive or neutral (desire/long). There are 16 times the word is used in the NT, and here’s the one that struck me — Luke 15:16 from the story of the Lost, or Prodigal, Son:
“And he was longing (epithumeo) to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.”
Here’s a man who could have been doing things God’s way, longing for delectable meals, and feasting at his father’s table, and instead he goes off sinning a blue streak and ends up longing for something that will never fill him up! That is the way “lust” works outside of God’s design. You are longing for something you shouldn’t have, and God actually has something way better!
Lust and longing are not bad. Epithumeo as a strong desire is perfectly fine in the proper context — marriage. That’s where the Father has prepared us a feast! It’s when we try to twist it all up and start longing for pig’s food — sexuality outside of God’s plan — that it becomes a negative thing.
Thus, LUST IN MARRIAGE IS GOOD. I know that’s causing some of your heads to hurt. But replace the word “lust” with “strong desire” and read it again. When speaking of adultery, Jesus said that a man sins when he strongly desires a woman who is not his wife (Matthew 5:27-28). But that was about adultery. Strongly desiring your own spouse is not only a-okay, but all over the scriptures!
In practical terms, this means that when my husband removes his clothes, I ogle. Yep, I do. When I strip down to even my undergarments, my husband drops his book and starts to look. Married people are supposed to desire and enjoy one another’s bodies.
I dare say plenty of us could use some practice learning to lust in marriage. Oftentimes, we have no problem checking out the “hot babes” or “mancandy” from magazines, film, and TV, but we don’t train our eyes and hearts to look longingly at our spouses. The more we keep that strong desire where it belongs — in marriage — and practice that longing for one another, the less likely we are to be tempted elsewhere and the more we are likely to appreciate our own mate’s beautiful qualities.
Being looked at longingly also makes us feel loved. We all want to be desired — relationally and physically. When hubby gazes in wonder at the curves and softness of your body, isn’t that a compliment of the highest kind? Likewise, try checking him out when he steps out of the shower. Does he have particularly broad shoulders? Strong hands? Penetrating eyes? A cute outey navel? A bald spot on his head that you can barely keep your fingers off? Find something to check out. Lust a little! He’ll love it.
Lust is bad when you do it in the pigpen. At the feast table that your Heavenly Father has set — the union of your marriage — that longing is approved, endorsed, encouraged, and smiled upon.
What do you think? Do you enjoy looking at your hunky honey? Do you appreciate when he looks at you? Have you ever heard these distinctions about the word translated as lust?